Lawmakers should not stifle innovation

An illustration of the California grizzly bear and manufacturing machinery. (Image: GrAl, via Shutterstock)

California takes great pride in being at the forefront of innovation. The state’s bold regulatory initiatives set standards for the rest of the country and our manufacturers research and develop world-leading solutions to particular problems almost daily. There is no doubt that California is the world’s leading edge of innovation, product safety and modernization.

It’s curious then that a strongly anti-innovation bill is making its way through the Legislature. Assembly Bill 2998 by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, would eliminate any flame retardant substance or functional technology from being used in upholstered furniture, mattresses, or children’s products.

Product safety is paramount, and the amount of comprehensive research and development that manufacturers put into product safety is staggering.

Chemical combinations on the market today that are used to improve fire safety would be prohibited, as would any technology that may be developed in the future, regardless of whether that chemistry or technology is deemed safe or helps reduce fire risk.

Without scientific justification, AB 2998 shuts the door on fire safety innovation.

Proponents of this legislation claim the bill is needed to protect consumers from “toxic” chemicals that may be used in these products.

Of course, product safety is paramount, and the amount of comprehensive research and development that manufacturers put into product safety is staggering.  Their chemistry research is often extremely complex, and tossing around rhetoric about “toxic products” may make for good headlines but doesn’t form the basis for sound scientific public policy.

The Legislature recognized this very point when in 2008 it created one of the nation’s most stringent consumer product safety laws.

California scientists at the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) have established a process to identify, prioritize, and, as necessary, evaluate chemicals of concern in consumer products and their potential alternatives.  It is a regulatory program unlike any other in the country.  In fact, many of the products that are the focus of this bill are already being considered under DTSC’s regulatory program.

Grounded in science, DTSC is given broad authority by the state to assess chemicals in products and impose a wide range of regulatory responses – including imposing bans on products if the science justifies such actions.

Perhaps most importantly, California’s program seeks to spur innovation in the creation of more sustainable chemical combinations.  Yet when it comes to flame retardant chemicals and technologies, AB 2998 shuts the door on innovation, dismisses scientific data, and ignores the resources already being used to support DTSC’s efforts.

AB 2998 also conveniently casts aside an existing law that requires manufacturers of upholstered furniture to label whether their products contain or do not contain flame retardants. The law, passed in 2014, carries stiff fines for furniture manufacturers who don’t comply or make false claims.

This labeling approach is used nationwide by furniture manufacturers and allows consumers to make informed purchasing decisions.  These two regulatory programs raise the question of why AB 2998 is even necessary.

Instead of adding an additional layer of California-only regulations on the state’s manufacturing and retail industry, why not fully implement and support the laws we already have on the books?  Public policy should be grounded in sound science, help spur not stifle innovation, and utilize taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently.

Unfortunately, AB 2998 falls short on all of these fronts.  If the Legislature wants to support innovation and consumer product safety, it should reject AB 2998.

Ed’s Note: Dorothy Rothrock is president of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association.

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